Haste Still Makes Waste (If It Doesn’t Kill Ya First)

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I take my amusement where I find it and a reliable source seems to be when people see an AVweb video and suggest that my audio person should try a different mic or that my animator is channeling South Park. One reader told me my camera presence was OK, but the editing sucked.

I’m doubled over here. I’ll remind myself to keep these things in mind because just in case you didn’t know it, our videos are all one-man bands. From scripting to post-production to YouTube loading. The whole thing gives vertical integration a bad name. When I started as a newspaper reporter, I had a notebook and a pen. Nonetheless, I like the video process. It’s a fundamental shift from telling a story with just the written word. I like the option of visuals. And visuals that move? So much the better. Infantile cartoons? I’m down with that.

Having done this kind of work for 12 years, I have developed an appreciation for professional videographers and I understand why they send three people instead of one. This week’s production on hand propping drove this home with a hammer, with lessons I have finally integrated and, a surprise, some transference.

I write a script for most videos and present it through a combination of a prompter and extemporaneous delivery. I normally do three takes of everything, which is similar to what professionals do, when they can. I learned long ago to do a script read on the prompter before starting the camera. Script writing is different than writing for print. It’s easy—common, really—to insert little trip wires that bollex up the flow when read. But sometimes I get in a hurry and think I can skip the pre-read. I did that last week. Five takes later, I regretted it. Sigh.

With the prompter, I normally use a Sony A6000 DSLR, but lately, I’ve been shooting with the GoPro 9 so I thought I’d try it in this rig. I would usually test such a thing first with a half-dozen trials, but I was in a hurry so, what the heck, I’ll do it on the fly. When you shoot solo like this, it takes four or five test frames to get a good mark set up. If you have a camera person, he or she directs you into the frame in two seconds and off you go. Solo, it’s back and forth, back and forth.

I know to bring a laptop to look at the images full screen before committing to a keeper. You can’t really do this just on the camera viewer. My laptop had a dead battery. So I skipped bringing it. When I got back to the office and reviewed the footage, I noticed two things I couldn’t fix. The GoPro’s depth of field showed a glaring layer of dust on the prompter glass and its wide field caught edges of the prompter frame that I couldn’t crop. Sigh. The following morning, I returned to finish this thing up and against all the odds, a salvage crew was scrapping an airplane in the adjacent hangar. They were removing the wings with a reciprocating saw. Sigh.

Back the following morning for four more takes. I decided to bring one of my softbox lights to brighten the exposure a little. When I was unloading it, two of the bulbs—they’re daylight CFLs—came loose and smashed themselves to bits on the hangar floor. Glass everywhere, inches from the $300 Cub tires. By now, I was getting seriously behind on this project. It didn’t help that the audio recorder batteries depleted during what I thought was my best take. Sigh.

When I got back from the hardware store with replacement bulbs, a thunderstorm moved in and pounded the hangar with blinding rain. Can’t even think in that din, much less shoot. Sigh. On the next trip, I neglected to bring the recorder entirely, so at least it couldn’t deplete the batteries. Sigh. (Yes, I have a checklist. No, I didn’t use it.) By Saturday afternoon, it was all put together. During my final-final review before posting it, I noticed a giant gray hair snaking out of my shirt collar. It was disgustingly obvious and repulsively distracting.

Back to the hangar. It’s Saturday evening. The hangar has been heating all day. It’s about 100 degrees. This time, I took the Sony and mounted it in the prompter. No more slip-ups. I’m serious now. Except the mount bracket was loose and the camera dropped out, smashing the lens to bits on the hangar floor. Sigh. Fortunately, I had a suitable backup lens.

Now the transference part. At the end of this fiasco, I realized that all of this was caused by rushing, cutting corners and departing from what I know had always worked because I thought I was smart enough and experienced enough to skip the tedium of rote procedure. I had it down pat. Had I slowed down, taken my time setting things up and been more methodical, I’d have been done by Wednesday. Later, it occurred to me to ask myself if I’m doing the same thing in my flying and if I am, I’d better stop.

I’m certainly not rushing when I prop the engine. What you see in the video is how I do it. I’m aware of the risks and tamp them down as best I can. That said, I was quite surprised at the number of comments I’ve received about propping gone bad. Much more than I ever expected, including a couple of fatals. Most of them were caused by improperly securing the airplane during this potentially risky operation and/or by people who simply didn’t know what they were doing. I had this Cirrus incident on my clip list but forgot to include it.

That’s the kind of shortcut you should never, ever take when propping. My friend who lost his Champ while propping knows all these things and he told me as much. He tried to describe for me the feeling he had when his airplane broke the rope and impaled itself to destruction in a stand of trees. I know what the feeling is: I screwed this up and it could have easily been avoided. The same could be said for my smashed camera lens.

For that gag shot of the clown in the cockpit, I bought a $10 mask from Amazon. I found a good use for it after the shoot. It’s hanging on the side of the cowl as a reminder of what not to do.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. Your videography is always some combo of comical, cynical, educational, funny, unique and always educational. I envy your abilities. Thanks for all that hard work. As I’ve previously said, I picture you doubled over laughing as you put it all together.

    For something like this one … you oughta collaborate with the FAA FAAST team to allow credit for watching the video.

  2. Paul, I think your videos and writing are superb. You are the reason I subscribe to Aviation Consumer. Moving along to point number two: there are several pilots who have youtube channels who, over the years, have become quite well known and acquired a raft of followers. This year they put together a poster of themselves which they were raffling off, with the proceeds going to worthy causes. Perhaps next year you might join this group of aviators. I’m guessing that the number of your “followers” are at least equal to any of these guys. Keep up the great work!

  3. I believe that ‘Vlogging’ is the future. I’m subscribed to many Youtube Channels and get way more information and entertainment from the “One-Person-Show” then any billion dollar production. Mistakes are real life and the feeling that ‘we’re ol’ friends’. Although you don’t know me, I feel like I can walk up to a Vlogger and have a heart to heart conversation. Hangar Talk is much more fun. We pull up videos all the time now and get schooled on maintaining our aircraft and everything else. DIY videos make the Aviation experience much more fulfilling. All you Vloggers out there… keep up the good work!

  4. Absolutely love your videos Paul. I think the new VLOG lingo is “authentic”. Yes, you are authentic! I get a hoot out of your animations. Between the animations, sarcasm (in just the right amounts), cynicism (in just the right amounts), intuition, and overall aviation savvy(in just the right amounts), you bring to the screen a perfect balance of “authenticism” ( I don’t think this is a word…but an authentic person will understand). Keep up this excellent recipe of aviation reporting. Now I know you look like a one legged man in an a–kicking contest in your efforts to bring to us such outstanding aviation journalism and video presentations.

  5. Paul, you could have fooled all of us into believing your videos are multi person productions. Gauging the response to this blog, your videos are received as Pablum for the AVweb reader’s soul. I like them too. With Pablum in mind, I’m kindly requesting that you do a video on the veracity of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines as they potentially relate to health and peace of mind on the multi-crew flight deck.

  6. Funny and well done as usual, Paul, but that freaking mask is Bad for Aviation! I think I’d prefer something like a ‘Look Here Moron!’ flag or a frowning self-portrait in its place, lol.
    Also came away with a song running around in my head from the writeup – Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower, so great experience all around for me. 🙂

  7. That’s a lot of “Sighs”….. very understandable. I spent a previous life as a film / video editor for TV news stations….. always racing the clock! Considering you are a “one-man-band”,…your results are priceless.!

  8. Paul, a short story: was it a coincidence that the video appeared Monday AM and Tuesday AM the local J3 ran into the owner’s truck? By the way, he did indeed use the huge rubber jet style chocks that you showed in the video. He said he saw the tires creeping up the chock in slow motion as he jumped to the side. No one was physically hurt. Also, your videos and articles are top notch, very entertaining, so sc&^w the nay say-ers. Thanks for your hard work.

  9. Reviewing the Cirrus clip reminded me…

    If the battery is THAT dead – then even if you get the engine running – there is a good chance the alternator will not provide a charge. Because it needs a minimum voltage – provided by the battery – to excite the field coils and so provide a charge. And even though it is now spinning like crazy and people think it will now charge the battery – you need a minimum voltage to excite the field coil to get it to charge (yes – I provided the circular reason twice – because many folks don’t understand the point – just because the alternator is spinning – does not mean it will charge).

    Which is a real safety of flight issue – because the Glass panel might just flicker to life on the last of the battery. Now as soon as you hit the Transponder or PTT the Radio – you should get a big clue all is not well. But if you got in a state that the battery was that dead – are you paying attention?

    And why was the battery that dead? Is it near end of life and not capable of actually providing current when under load? What else might be adrift?

    Hand propping an alternator equipped plane comes with a lot more questions than “did I tie it down and set the brakes”.

    There was something to be said for generators which will provide some voltage once spinning – regardless of battery condition.

    PS – love the videos.

      • I thought the idea was to always look at the ammeter after the engine starts to confirm a positive charge rate. If you see a discharge or zero charge, then something is still wrong. But, the idea of a small reserve battery has merit…

    • I owned a Piper which had a “loadmeter.” Essentially, the discharge half of a + / – ammeter … a nutty thing to have in an airplane. As you say, looking at the regular ammeter ought to tell you if there’s enough excitation to power the alternator to provide charging. But that’s only half the story.

      Voltage regulation is part of the story, too. In my 172, I have an over voltage protection circuit which removes excitation from the alternator and lights up a light that says HIGH voltage if bus voltage goes above ~16v. HUH! If that light comes on, the alternator is — for some reason — not producing power therefore you have LOW voltage. SOME Cessnas did say low voltage. Musta been a different design engineer? Only a voltmeter will tell you the static (at rest) state of a battery and the charging voltage when the airplane is operating.

      As an A&P who can change batteries in my flashlight without electrocuting myself or using black electrical tape, I espouse putting both a full ammeter AND voltmeter in every airplane. That way, you can tell what’s going on with the charging system fully. Also, the charging system is not designed to fully charge a battery; it’s designed to bring it up to a point where it won’t overcharge the battery thereby boiling electrolyte (flooded lead acid) or ruining an AGM type. Occasionally, it would behoove EVERY owner to have the proper charging equipment and fully charge the battery while watching battery case temp. This can only be done with a charger capable of providing constant current mode for the specific voltage of the battery. Anything less — like the charging system — will keep the battery mostly charged but NOT fully charged; translated, battery longevity is less. Battery manufacturers don’t want you to know this for the obvious reason. Sulfation begins the instant a batteries voltage falls below it’s 100% fully charged voltage. Keep it above that and sulfation won’t occur.

      I PREACH this to everyone who will listen; and it applies to vehicles, too. My batteries in all my vehicles last years and years because I do that about once a month. I have a big ’97 Ford F250 w/ 460 V8 that is now on only its second battery which has lasted … are ya ready … 15 1/2 years! I don’t drive it much but it’s always on a trickle charger that supplies 13.4v. It’s now down to a game to see how long it’ll last. I wouldn’t trust it to go cross country but the battery is still happy because it isn’t allowed to sulfate (due to the charger) AND it was a good pure lead battery to begin with … not ground up WalMart battery lead. These days, many chargers have desulfation modes (high peak voltage with very narrow pulse width of a proper frequency riding on the DC charging voltage). I’ve been able to salvage batteries that otherwise would have been tossed by using these.

      Bottom line … every airplane owner should occasionally use external charging system capable of constant current (full out) output and give the battery a good ‘drink’ of electrons. In between, use of a trickle charger will keep sulfation from occurring. I shudder to think of what will happen if electric airplanes ever become de rigueur and aren’t given proper care.

      Keeping your battery happy will prevent you from one of PB’s ‘statistics.’

  10. Keep up the great work, Paul… we need some good ol’ fashioned humor in all aspects of our lives. Damn the PC crowd and let’s re-learn how to take a joke and laugh at ourselves again!

    I covet your Cub… (is that still a sin?)

  11. I binge watch your videos. Great content will always beat graphics and production style etc. I think of Rod Machado and his klugey cartoons and corny jokes, but his stuff is great too.

    I appreciate the statistics, warnings about the law of small numbers etc and that you take a pretty objective stance on product reviews.

    Like many of us, we get the dopamine hit when we uncover an unwatched Bertorelli vid.

    It seems the Comments section of AvWeb was also designed by a one-man crew lol

  12. Great read! Pipe bangers have a saying that they live (and avoiding dying) by, “Fast is slow, slow is fast”. So often I see managers pushing people to go fast, rushing to create reports, make decisions and get things done. You accurately document the results.

    Videos are so ubiquitous that few people realize the time and effort that goes into making a video. The rule of thumb is, every minute of video takes one hour of prep.

    So hats off to your videos. Despite the challenges, your videos are very well done and much appreciated.

    For us amateurs, maybe a future video can be, “how to make an aviation video”. For our personal use of course.

  13. Paul:

    Thanks for yet another PB masterpiece!

    Checklists, checklists, checklists… the stuff that we all hate to love. Great story.

    So, WHERE on AvWeb do you keep all of your videos and all of your many pithy articles???

  14. I am of an age where looking at pictures of class reunions is like looking at Jurassic park, which might be relevant here.
    Having said that, one thing I have learned is to avoid going on trips, or finding myself sharing a media tent with anyone who looks like they are either TV, or wanabee TV, or even an “influencer”.
    It might be the opening of a not very inspiring flower show, but they will be running around as if it is Ben Hur with a Cast of Thousands.
    Loved the video, but in the eight minutes plus, how many words?
    On a similar vein, when faced with a problem like changing the belt on a lawnmower, for example, (always happens on Friday or Saturday, mechanic will take 2 weeks, by which time it lawnmower will not be strong enough) youngsters always say “Look it up on You Tube, you will see how to do it….”
    But when I try, I am always left with more problems than if I had spent two days doing it myself, the hard way.
    And the question, “Why not just write it down, clearly, and share it? Take less time than the video.
    Tried an experiment on young ones I know, and afraid to say the reading concept was as foreign to them as it was to our acestors before printing presses.

    • How many words? About 1300. Could have done it in 10: Stay out of the prop arc. Tie the airplane down.
      And the video is almost 15 minutes. We used to think that no one would watch a video over 3:30 or so in length. We have long since learned that longer videos are more engaging by far, if the topic is compelling and presented competently.

      In defense of YouTube, I think of all the social media it is the one that has most increased personal agency for people who know how to use it. Example: In the modern world, products often have characteristic failures, none more so than appliances. We have a refrigerator that has two poorly designed parts that commonly break. One is a drain valve that fails and causes the appliance to flood the floor in front of it, the other was a weak hinge on a crisper drawer that broke. Short YouTube videos on fixing these were easy to find and saved me hours of futzing around and may have inspired me to do the repairs in the first place.

      A washer we have had a poorly designed clutch on the spin basket. Must be a half dozen videos explaining this and how to do the repair, which I did. For what it’s worth, I now know that some Maytag engineer either specified the wrong material or the wrong dimensions on a machined keyway.

      My Mazda CX-5 needed new rear brakes, but a video revealed it required a special tool that I didn’t want to buy, so I gave it a pass. Last week, I watched a brilliantly conceived video explaining how the Yamaha R1 cross plane engine works and what the advantages are. I could cite dozens of others.

      On the other hand, I don’t watch cat videos.

  15. Paul, I have watched you in action at Sun’n Fun and Oshkosh doing product review videos. I have always marveled at how you can do what I consider quality presentations without the help of at least one other person. Your wry wit and kind of silly animations convey your meanings in an enjoyable and educational manner. To heck with the critics, keep up the good work! Besides, I get the impression that you are a bit of a perfectionist at heart and are probably your own toughest critic.